Your RDA of Irony

Happy Birthday to My Favorite Republican

Yes, I am referring to Abraham Lincoln. In case you were wondering, my other favorite Republicans are Teddy Roosevelt, Jimmy Stewart and Adolphe Menjou. True, it is not a long list. I could include three personal friends, but these days–out of embarrassment–they claim to be Libertarians. And yes, I do like John Wayne, but I never can forgive him for being a draft dodger. Neither could an naval veteran named John Ford, who used to ridicule Wayne about “being a sissy”; in fact, he once even made John Wayne cry.

Of course, modern Republicans would not want to be associated with a pair of liberals like Lincoln and Teddy R. It is surprising that their heads are still on Mount Rushmore. (You can imagine Halliburton getting a no-bid contract for that project.) But, oh the irony, the Republicans were once the liberals of American politics. Granted that liberalism was confined to one issue, but it was the biggest issue of the day. The Republicans were opposed to slavery. Some advocated its outright abolition; however, most Republicans had the temperate approach that we expect from liberals. They just opposed the expansion of slavery into new states. You’d think that would be a moderate, unoffensive compromise. Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas really are not ideal for cotton. But the South would not recognize even economic practicality as a limit to their cherished “institution”. If the South was not free to have slaves (freedom is a relative concept), then the South would leave the Union. Of course, it was constricting itself to the same geographic confinement proposed by its Republican enemies, but the South’s gray matter evidently was limited to uniforms.

Once the Civil War was won and slavery was abolished (replaced by mere serfdom), the Republicans had lost their reason for being. However, they so enjoyed power that decided to improvise a new platform. The now defunct Whig party had an incestuous affection for business, although its war hero candidates usually could camouflage the financial self-interests. That philosophy and strategy suited the intellectually-bereft Republicans. And they happened to have a new generation of war heroes, starting with Ulysses Grant himself, to front for the robber barons and their pet politicians.

Aside from Teddy Roosevelt, an aristocrat who took his noblesse oblige quite seriously, the Republican Party is essentially the same kleptocratic, stagnant-quo of the Grant adminstration. It is occasionally stirred by a social awareness but always confuses self-righteousness with morality. That is how we get Prohibition, McCarthyism and the Patriot Act.

I imagine that Abraham Lincoln would have been on Richard Nixon’s and Dick Cheney’s enemies list. And he would have been flattered.

P.S. Adolphe Menjou was a wonderful actor. Consider his fascinating performance as the diabolical general in “Paths of Glory.” Menjou was so suave and knowing, and he could convey all his cynicism with just an arched eyebrow. It was a remarkable feat of acting.

  1. Hal Gordon says:

    Eugene — One critic declared that Menjou’s performance in “Paths of Glory” was one of the most subtle portrayals of evil ever to appear on the screen. I concur. He was magnificent. The character he played bore the real responsibility for both the battlefield slaughter and the drumhead court-martial that followed. But he wore white gloves throughout and left no fingerprints. He even deceived himself. “What have I done wrong?” he asks at the end. And he’s perfectly sincere. A splendid performance from an actor too lightly dismissed as a mere fashion plate.

  2. Leah says:

    Cary Grant. Irene Dunne. Barbara Stanwyck. Elliot Richardson. Fiorello LaGuardia.

    Also one other issue: women’s rights.

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